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Though the phrase “Twelve Days of Christmas” traditionally refers to the period beginning on Christmas Day, we at Sputnikmusic are far more interested in the dozen days leading up to it, when the anticipation and excitement builds and builds until the inevitable disappointment kicks in on Christmas morning. Over the next twelve days, we hope to expose you to every facet of the Christmas music experience, from the impossibly earnest to the self-consciously ironic to the downright offensive and everything in between.

We begin, though, with a classic.

Montgomery Burns once lamented: “Smithers, years ago I blew the chance to buy Picasso’s Guernica for a song. Luckily, that song was ‘White Christmas,’ and by hanging onto it I made billions!” The story may have been fictional (although the Simpsons is otherwise 100% factually accurate) but the sentiment was right: Bing Crosby’s recording of Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’ remains the best-selling single of all-time and will likely never be beat.

For those of us who live in less than arctic climates, the “White Christmas” remains an annual fantasy, an ideal that belies the fact any significant amount of snowfall scares the shit out of us, destroys our infrastructure and sends us into varying degrees of deranged panic. Every year. It’s testament to the beauty of the imagery, and the song, that ‘White Christmas’ remains the season’s most enduring staple and the feather in the cap of one of pop music’s greatest ever singers.

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When I was fourteen, Muse became my favorite band. Considering what I’d been listening to before I heard them, they were actually a fairly sophisticated choice. I was finally starting to move beyond the realm of bands like Good Charlotte, Senses Fail, and New Found Glory (which I had moved on to from Christian music). I had been taking piano lessons for about five years, and I had grown to hate the instrument, mostly because I hated my teacher. So I was impressed with a band like Muse, who could write songs in which the piano sounded like something wholly different from the object of my distaste. They were playing the kind of music that I had always wanted to learn in my lessons but never did.  It wasn’t necessarily difficult to play (barring the solo in “Butterflies And Hurricanes,” which floored me when my fourteen year old ears heard it), but it was certainly memorable, and as someone who wanted to forget all about the piano, that impressed me to no end.

Looking back, I find myself much more ashamed of loving them as much as I did than I am of loving a band like Good Charlotte, because Muse are now the worst band ever.

When Muse first started getting a lot of attention, there were a lot of Radiohead comparisons, which sent die-hard Radiohead fans into a tizzy because of Muse’s supposed unworthiness of the honor. That’s true, of course – Radiohead are a far superior band…

Billy Bragg, M. Ward and Owen Pallett, amongst a host of others, have come together to record a Joanna Newsom cover record released digitally recently in support of the Oxfam America Pakistan Flood Relief fund. They’ve uploaded the album to Soundcloud, embedded below, and if you’re feeling particularly charitable you can head to their website, where a donation of $10 or more will earn you a high quality mp3 download of the 22-track album, cover art and liner notes. It’s for a good cause.

“Pakistan’s worst floods in decades are now affecting more than 20 million people. More than a fifth of the country’s cropland has been inundated, and 1.8 million houses damaged or destroyed. In the crowded temporary camps, waterborne disease is already taking a toll. In order to prevent more suffering and fatalities, Oxfam is rushing clean water, sanitation materials, and other essential aid to hundreds of thousands of those in need.”

Versions of Joanna by VersionsofJoanna


As the international media descended on Ireland in November to cover its impending financial crisis, their choice of imagery was striking. Almost all pictorial coverage, in the UK and American media at least, focused on one of three images: beggars, ghost estates or horses.

The first two are predictable enough – similar pictures exist in almost every major city across Europe and the United States – but the third is a puzzler. It appears that for all the rapid financial and technological advances we’ve achieved over the past twenty years, Ireland remains the only country in the world where a horse can freely roam the streets of a major city, with or without its owner, and nobody will bat an eyelid. Except for foreigners, of course, but they hardly count.

Limerick comedy rap duo Rubberbandits have made a small industry of this “only in Ireland” schtick, achieving unlikely success with Ireland’s usually hyper-conservative state broadcaster RTE. They first came to (indie) prominence with the hilarious ‘Up Da Ra,’ a sly satire of those radical Irish nationalists (many of them in the US) whose grasp of historical fact is only rivaled by their loose grip on intelligence. ‘Willie O’Dea‘ is no less funny for the fact only a few thousand people could ever understand it.

As comedians, Rubberbandits are as much miss as they are hit – like a crude, very esoteric, Irish version of the Lonely Island – but as musicians they definitely…

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Identity is simultaneously everything and nothing in pop music: artists are constantly criticized for borrowing ideas and being carbon copies of someone else, but they also seem to try very hard to show that they are individuals. Most of the time though, their attempts are ill-conceived and often prove their detractors right. Christina Aguilera’s “Not Myself Tonight” springs to mind. After Back To Basics scrubbed Aguilera’s image squeaky clean, the logical step for a typical pop star would be to try to “do something different,” which in this case turned out to be an exact mirror image of the start of Aguilera’s career. Years ago she went from the innocent yet innuendo filled “Genie In A Bottle” (the girl next door laying fully clothed on a beach) to “Dirrty” (hookers engaging in sweaty wrestling matches; probably the first thing a lot of young boys masturbated to). Back To Basics saw her emulating the singers of the 40s and 50s, which means she wore white dresses and curled her hair and put on a lot of bright red lipstick, and four years later, the video for “Not Myself Tonight” featured Aguilera wearing a bunch of different S&M outfits. So really, “Not Myself Tonight” should have been titled “Myself Eight Years Ago.”

It’s hard to defend pop music when such faux pas are so commonplace. Even though Christina Aguilera is generally one of the better pop stars, you have to fault her for things like that when even fucking Ke$ha is doing…

I don’t particularly enjoy Christmas in any physical sense; I don’t buy presents for anyone and I don’t expect to receive any. We don’t decorate our house or get a Christmas tree anymore. Christmas is more of an obligation than anything at this point, and while that does depress me a little, it’s not a big deal. However, I’ll be damned if the Christmas season doesn’t weasel its way inside me every year. I wouldn’t call it holiday cheer – I’m a cynic at heart and Christmas is no different – but there is a certain pervading joyfulness underneath everything I do, humming away electrically to the tune of whatever Christmas song is stuck in my head or playing over some loudspeaker in a store.

My favorite Christmas songs utilize minor chords, and none do it better than “O Holy Night,” which has always stood head and shoulders above other Christmas songs for me. When I think of Christmas and winter, the first image that pops unbidden into my head is not one of snow or multicolored lights or wrapping paper. It is a very black night in which you can see every star in the sky, and there is profound silence all around. It captures both the beauty and stillness of winter but also those ominous qualities – the cold, the loneliness. The chord progression of “O Holy Night” embodies these things for me. Nothing explodes into glorious abandon quite like the chorus, but it’s so uncertain, teetering…

Happy holidays to all of the Sputnik Music faithful. The last four weeks of the year are a notoriously slow time for new releases, and it just doesn’t make sense to release multiple news articles during such a slow time period. The following is a list of major releases through the end of 2010. Please feel free to request reviews for any of the following albums from staff or contributors. This article will be updated as necessary.

Week of December 07
Amia Venera Landscape - The Long Procession (Self Released) – Trey Spencer
Natasha Bedingfield – Strip Me (Epic)
Copywrite – Life & Times/Peter Nelson (Man Bites Dog Records)
Daft Punk – Tron Legacy [Soundtrack] (Walt Disney Records)
Damu The Fudgemunk – Supply For Demand (Redefinition Records)
Deadmau5 – 4×4=12 (Ultra Records)
Duffy – Endlessly (Mercury)
Flyleaf – Remember to Live (A&M/OCTONE)
Hinder – All American Nightmare (Universal Republic)
Christian Kane – The House Rules (Bigger Picture)
Plain White T’s – Wonders of the Younger (Hollywood Records)
Redman – Reggie (Def Jam)
T.I. – No Mercy (Atlantic)
Robin Trower – The Playful Heart (V-12 RECORDS)
Charlie Wilson – Just Charlie (Jive)

Week of December 14
Crystal Bowersox – Farmer’s Daughter (Jive)
Ciara – Basic Instinct (La Face)
The Damned Things – Ironiclast (Mercury)
Diddy and Dirty Money – The Last Train To Paris (Bad Boy Records)
Michael Jackson – Michael (Epic)
R. Kelly – Love Letter (Jive)
Like Moths…

Surprise, surprise: Bono’s in the news again.

At a recent concert in Auckland, New Zealand, the U2 frontman paid tribute to 29 miners lost in the Pike River blast by dedicating two classic songs to the deceased: ‘One Tree Hill’ (itself inspired by an Auckland landmark) and, curiously and insensitively, ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.’ By all accounts, the bulk of participants took the tribute in the spirit it was intended, but many were offended by the rather crass choice of title.

Such daydreamy behaviour is not in the least unusual for our boy Paul, of course: the 50-year-old has a tendency not to see the woods for the trees in his eagerness, to put it charitably. Of more recent curiosity in Ireland has been the man’s total silence on his country’s economic woes, which have necessitated a bailout from the hated British, the dastardly Germans and the… well, we like the Swedes.

In normal circumstances, a tragedy on the scale of Ireland’s economic collapse would be Bono’s cue to hit the soapbox, but his bond with the old country has become evermore strained in recent years. His cosy relationship with Messrs Blair and Bush notwithstanding (though Ireland is more sympathetic to American interests than any other European country, barring perhaps the UK, we all have our limits), Bono and U2’s tax avoidance strategies have come in for increasing criticism at home.

Until recently, Ireland had a generous tax regime that exempted musicians (and…

The amount of quality new releases is slowing dwindling in favor of generic Christmas albums and greatest hits packages, but nothing can be done about that. To pass some time, consider reading Adam Thomas’ interview with Ryan Parrish of Darkest Hour.

Here’s a list of major new releases for the week of November 30 , 2010. Please feel free to request reviews for any of the following albums from staff or contributors.

Eric Benet – Lost In Time (Reprise/Wea)
Black Eyed Peas – The Beginning (Interscope Records)
Buckethead – Left Hanging (TDRS Music)
Circa Survive – Appendage [EP] (Atlantic Records)
Fefe Dobson – Joy (Island)
Ron Isley – Mr I (Def Jam)
JR & PH7 – The Update (SoulSpazm Records)
King Cannibal – The Way of the Ninja (Ninja Tune)
Tim McGraw – Number One Hits (Curb Records)
Chrisette Michele – Let Freedom Reign (Def Jam)
Miguel – All I Want Is You (Jive)
Soman – Noistyle [Digital Only] (Infacted)
The Republic of Wolves – Varuna (Self Released)
Flo Rida – Only One Flo (Part 1) (Atlantic)
Seven Days – Into Forever (Phantom Domestic)
Simian Mobile Disco – Delicacies (+1 Records)
Slim Thug – Tha Thug Show (Entertainment One Music)
Soulja Boy – The DeAndre Way (Interscope Records)
Jazmine Sullivan – Love Me Back (J-Records)
Steve Wynn – Northern Aggression (Yep Roc Records)


Album Streams (please inform us of any broken links/removed streams):

The Republic of Wolves – Varuna

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The art district in downtown Pomona, CA, was an odd mishmash of people on November 27th. At the Glasshouse kids were packed outside to see Darkest Hour, Periphery, and Veil of Maya. A few buildings over at the Fox Theater the crowd was a little bit more extreme as they funneled into the rebuilt art-deco theater to see Dimmu Borgir and Enslaved. And smack dab in the middle of all of this, in a parking lot across the street from the Glasshouse, there was a small crafts fair and low-rider show set with their own band playing 70’s funk hits. This is what I had to make my way through on my way to Darkest Hour’s tour bus to interview their drummer Ryan Parrish. Among other things, we discussed Darkest Hour’s upcoming album The Human Romance, their 15th anniversary as a band, and what the future holds for the long running metal act.

Adam Thomas: With The Eternal Return you fulfilled your contract with Victory Records and now you’ve signed to E1 which used to be Koch…

Ryan Parrish: Yes.

AT: How does it feel to have a new home after spending almost a decade on the same label?

RP: Amazing. It’s an incredible change for us. We’ve been looking forward to the end of the Victory contract for a while so getting on a new label is the like best thing we could do. They’re really great to us.

AT: Has it opened up any new opportunities for…

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Kevin Barnes, eccentric frontman of indie pop outfit of Montreal (that’s a lowercase ‘o’ mind you!) did something yesterday that not many artists do, for several reasons: he responded to a critic. The main reason, though, is quite simple – you can’t look good. Following his discovery of the 6.7 semi-dismissal from Pitchfork, he took to his blog to give his own snarky, critical response to a snarky, critical review. You can read it here but if you don’t want to, here’s the crux of the issue: Kevin Barnes feels misunderstood. His calls for a “fair and balanced review” amongst the slew of insults and sarcasm did serve a purpose though: it brought an important question back into the spotlight. Just what does a review serve to do?

Let’s put it into a wider context for a moment: the press are a huge part of a musicians life. The influence of a website like Pitchfork alone is enough to rocket the career of an upcoming independent artist into the spotlight or have it crumbling away like a fistful of sand. The evidence is clear enough to see: bands like Vampire Weekend can credit a lot of their current level of success to the hype Pitchfork spun around them (this isn’t a jab at the bands ability, for the record) and Fleet Foxes went from folk minnows to a debut album that charted in seven countries in the space of a year, on the back of a no-holds-barred 9.0…

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Here’s a list of major new releases for the week of November 23 , 2010. Please feel free to request reviews for any of the following albums from staff or contributors.

Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit (Profound Lore)
After the Burial – In Dreams (SUMERIAN RECORDS)
Akon – Akonic (Konvict Muzik/Universal Motown)
Alchemist+Oh No – Gangrene: Gutter Water (DECON INC)
Lloyd Banks – H.F.M.2 (Hunger For More 2) (G-Unit/EMI)
Big L – Return of the Devil’s Son (SMC Recordings)
Justin Bieber – My Worlds Acoustic (101 DISTRIBUTION)
The Chariot – Long Live (Good Fight Music)
Crematory – Black Pearls {EU} (Massacre Records)
Darkwater – Where Stories End (RED GENERAL CATALOG)
Doro – 25 Years In Rock {EU} (Nuclear Blast)
Kevin Eubanks – Zen Food (Mack Avenue)
Fat Music Vol. 7: Harder, Fatter + Louder! [Various Artists] (Fat Wreck Chords)
God Dethroned – Under the Sign of the Iron Cross (Metal Blade)
Gotthard – Heaven: Best of Ballads Part 2 {EU} (Indie Europe/Zoom)
Hardcore Superstar – Split Your Lip {EU} (Indie Europe/Zoom)
Impaled Nazarene – Road to the Octagon (Osmose Records)
Inspectah Deck – Manifesto Redux (Urban Icons Records)
Alan Jackson – 34 Number Ones (Sony Nashville)
Jay-Z – The Hits Collection Vol. 1 (Def Jam)
Jesus Culture – Come Away (Km: Kingsway Music)
Ke$ha – Cannibal [EP] (RCA)
Killing Joke – Absolute Dissent (Universal Int’l)
Killing the Dream – Lucky Me (Deathwish Inc)
Maestro Fresh-Wes – The Black Tie Affair (MFW Records)

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One of the blogosphere’s more interesting stories of late has been the rapid rise of Sonny Moore, better known now as Skrillex, in the electro scene. With only two EPs to his name on deadmau5’s label, Moore at one point had six songs near the top of the Beatport Top 100, a site that specializes in electronic releases and is an excellent barometer of artist success. This is a feat that has never happened before, and it’s even more fascinating when you learn that Moore, who was the former frontman for post-hardcore band From First To Last, only began DJing in the past couple of years. His debut EP came out in June, while Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites, featuring this rather filthy dubstep remix by everyone’s favorite Dutch drum ‘n bass trio Noisia, was just released last month. Who knew all that pent-up hardcore aggression would translate so well to electro?

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It might be a reflection of me, or my friends, rather than the world at large, but the passing of Henryk Gorecki marked the first time since Michael Jackson that I found out about a musician’s death through a text message rather than the news. To me, it seems like that speaks volumes about how deeply people care about his music, how unerringly it connects with its audience. And this is to say nothing of the way one of his most famous and most cherished friends and compatriots reacted. As CBC reported, “[Krzysztof] Penderecki insisted on seeing him [in hospital]. We tried to joke, make plans for the future. Penderecki promised he would direct his Beatus Vir for his 80th birthday.” That birthday, like Penderecki’s own 80th, would have been in 2013. Something as simple, poignant, and sweet as that says everything. His death, like his music, was deeply human.

That is one thing that’s refreshing, almost, about Gorecki’s death. The last time I wrote an obituary for this blog, I was writing about a man that died very young and very suddenly. This time, I’m writing about a 76 year old man who had been ill for some time. There is no big story here, no coals to rake over, no skeletons in the closet to pause on – there is just a tribute to be paid to a great artist, and nothing more. We arguably haven’t had that since Stockhausen died, and even he did his…

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I don’t know much of anything about Young Magic (I don’t even know, really, what that picture above is, except has something to do w/r/t the artist), except that his debut song, “You With Air,” is the exact kind of dark, soulful, lo-fi pop that I’ve been searching for relentlessly after Love Remains spiked this hunger, this crave, for such music into my brain. It’s a little more spirited than How to Dress Well, with less focus on ambiance, but the song’s stifling, throbbing synths and the confessional slur of the vocalist combine to give the same sort of nightly glow. Plus, it’s rather catchy, which is always a plus. More stuff to be moody to, basically.

You With Air 7″ comes out February 11, 2011, on Carpark Records.

Young Magic “You With Air” by carparkrecords


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